The wounding of sponges allows researchers to understand the fundamental processes that control how healthy tissues are maintained in response to injury. The response was remarkably similar to the way cancer works.
This study focused on the Aplysina aerophoba transcriptomic response to wounding by grazers and mechanical injury. Their response was evaluated by analyzing the differential gene expression in RNA sequence data. According to Wu et al., “In the set of proteins codified by sponge genes responding to mechanical damage, [they] identified putative orthologs of human proteins involved in G-protein coupled signaling pathway, ubiquitination, and components of the MAP kinase signaling transduction pathway”. These genes are associated with cell adhesion, proliferation, and differentiation. When these behaviors become unregulated, it results in a tumor.
Putative orthologs of cancer-related human genes allow researchers to assess the mechanisms of evolution through the lens of genes with the same biological function in other animal phyla. This area of study seems promising because, unlike other organisms involved with cancer research due to their regenerative capabilities, such as planarians, sponges are the first animal lineage to appear on Earth.